“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,/My love as deep: The more I give to thee/The more I have, for both are infinite.

Romeo and Juliet

Act Two, Part One

By Dennis Abrams


Act Two:  As the ball comes to an end, Romeo is hiding in the Capulet’s orchard when Juliet appears on her balcony:  the two exchange words of love and agree to marry as soon as possible.  The next morning, Romeo rushes to Friar Laurence’s, who agrees to marry them in the hopes of ending the Capulet/Montague feud.  After meeting up with Mercutio and Benvolio (who are happy to see their friend returned to good humor), Romeo arranges with the Nurse for Juliet to join him at Friar Laurence’s cell that afternoon.


Let me begin by talking a little bit about time.  Speed dominates here:  just a handful of lines after first meeting each other, the lovers exchange their very first kiss.  They will be married in just five scene’s time; Mercutio and Tybalt will be dead a few scenes later, and in this brief period this seemingly comedy of romantic love will have become a full-blown over-the-top tragedy.  But though the couple’s time together is painfully brief, Shakespeare refused to make it one-dimensional.  Juliet (like most teenage girls it seems) seems to mature faster than Romeo.  In the balcony scene, as he vowed to love her “by yonder blessed moon,” she urges him “O swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon…Do not swear at all,’ fearing that ‘if thou swear’st/Thou may prove false.”  For her, there love lies not in immediate vows, but is organic and ever-growing.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep.  The more I give to thee

The more I have, for both are infinite.

But, of course, the sea is controlled by the moon, and their love, while it will not become shallower, will eventually be betrayed.  The lovers often attempt to somehow alter the very fabric of the universe, to push on time when apart but make it stand still when together.  Yearning for her wedding night, Juliet cries, ‘Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,/Towards Phoebus’ lodging’ to the heavens,

Such a waggoner

As Phaeton would whip you to the west

And bring in cloudy night immediately.

Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,

That runaways’ eyes may wink, and Romeo

Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen.


Juliet here is trying to manipulate the passage of time, in the same way that she is attempting to uproot convention by calling for night instead of day (a theme that much concerns the lovers); furthermore, her sexual language clearly presents her as a woman, and a sexual one at that – so much so that many 19th century actresses refused to perform this speech altogether, regarding Juliet’s description of “love-performing night,” and later “amorous rites” unfitting for a girl not yet fourteen.  And in yet another irony, Juliet’s wish is partly granted – time, indeed, does fly – but so urgently that the lovers’ rush to death rapidly becomes unstoppable.


From Harold Bloom:

“Shakespeare’s greatness began with Love’s Labour’s Lost and Richard III, superb achievements respectively in comedy and in history.  Yet Romeo and Juliet has rightly overshadowed both, though I cannot quite place it for eminence with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed simultaneously with Shakespeare’s first serious tragedy.  The permanent popularity, now of mythic intensity, of R&J is more than justifi8ed, since the play is the largest and most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature.  When I think of the play, without rereading and teaching it, or attending yet one more inadequate performance, I first remember neither the tragic outcome nor the gloriously vivid Mercutio and the Nurse.  My mind goes directly to the vital center, Act II, Scene ii, with its incandescent exchange between the lovers:


Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow,

That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops –


O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon,

That monthly changes in her circled orb,

Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.


What shall I swear by?


Do not swear at all,

Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,

Which is the gold of my idolatry

And I’ll believe thee


If my heart’s dear love –


Well, do not swear.  Although I joy in thee,

I have no joy of this contract tonight:

It is too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden,

Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be

Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’  Sweet, good night.

This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,

May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

Good night, good night.  As sweet repose and rest

Come to thy heart as that within my breast.


O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?


What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?


Th’exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.


I gave thee mine before thou didst request it,

And yet I would it were to give again.


Wouldst thou withdraw it?  For what purpose, love?


But to be frank and give it thee again;

And yet I wish but for the thing I have.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep:  The more I give to thee

The more I have, for both are infinite.

The revelation of Juliet’s nature here might be called an epiphany in the religion of love.  Chaucer has nothing like this, nor does Dante, since his Beatrice’s love for him transcends sexuality.  Unprecedented in literature (although presumably not in life), Juliet precisely does not transcend the human heroine.  Whether Shakespeare reinvents the representation of a very young woman (she is not yet fourteen) in love, or perhaps does even more than that, is difficult to decide.  How do you distance Juliet?  You only shame yourself by bringing irony to a contemplation of her consciousness.  Hazlitt, spurred by a nostalgia for his own lost dreams of love, caught better than any other critic the exact temper of this scene:

‘He has founded the passion of the two lovers not in the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had not experienced.’

It is the sense of an infinity yet to come that is evoked by Juliet, nor can we doubt that her bounty is ‘as boundless as the sea.’  When Rosalind in As You Like It repeats this simile, it is in a tonality that subtly isolates Juliet’s difference:


O coz, coz, coz, my pretty little coz, that thou didst know how many fathoms deep I am in love!   But it cannot be sounded.  My affection hath an unknown bottom, like the Bay of Portugal.


Or rather bottomless, that as fast as you pour affection in, it runs out.


No.  That same wicked bastard of Venus, that was begot of thought, conceived of spleen and born of madness, that blind rascally boy that abuses everyone’s eyes because his own are out, let him be judge how deep I am in love.

This is the sublimest of female wits, who one imagines would advise Romeo and Juliet to ‘die by attorney,’ and who knows that women, as well as men, ‘have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love.’  Romeo and Juliet, alas, are exceptions, and die for love rather than live for wit.  Shakespeare allows nothing like Rosalind’s supreme intelligence to intrude upon Juliet’s authentic rapture.  Mercutio, endlessly obscene, is not qualified to darken Juliet’s intimations of ecstasy.  The play has already made clear how brief this happiness must be.  Against the context, against also all of his own ironic reservations, Shakespeare allows Juliet the most exalted declaration of romantic love in the language:


But to be frank and give it thee again,

And yet I wish but for the thing I have.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep:  The more I give to thee

The more I have, for both are infinite.

We have to measure the rest of this play against these five lines, miraculous in their legitimate pride and poignance.  They defy Dr. Johnson’s wry remark on Shakespeare’s rhetorical extravagances throughout the play:  ‘his pathetick strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations.’  Molly Mahood, noting that there are at least a hundred and seventy-five puns and allied wordplays in Romeo and Juliet, finds them appropriate to a riddling drama where ‘Death has long been Romeo’s rival and enjoys Juliet at the last,’ an appropriate finale for doom-eager lovers.  Yet little in the drama suggests that Romeo and Juliet are in love with death, as well as with each other.  Shakespeare stands back from assigning blame, whether to the feuding older generation, or to the lovers, or to fate, time, chance, and the cosmological contraries.  Julia Kristeva, rather too courageously not standing back, rushes in to discover ‘a discreet version of the Japanese Realm of the Senses,’ a baroque sadomasochistic motion picture.

Clearly Shakespeare took some risks in letting us judge this tragedy for ourselves, but that refusal to usurp his audience’s freedom allowed ultimately for the composition of the final high tragedies.  I think that I speak for more than myself when I assert that the love shared by Romeo and Juliet is as healthy and normative a passion as Western literature affords us.  It concludes in mutual suicide, but not because either of the lovers lusts for death, or mingles hatred with desire.”


From Garber:

“The structuring ‘feuds’ of Romeo and Juliet come together in a powerful way in the famous balcony scene.  The scene is set in part upon the upper stage, the ‘balcony’ to Juliet’s private chamber, or bedroom.  Romeo, standing below on the main apron stage, unseen by Juliet as the scene begins, thus assumes the classic posture of the Petrarchan lover:

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

Juliet is the sun, not the moon, which is sacred to Diana, the goddess of virginity; it is Rosaline who is said to have ‘Dian’s wit.’  Juliet has come out on the balcony to be alone.  She thinks she is speaking in soliloquy and has no idea that she is being overheard when she questions, to herself, the implications of her lover’s name:  ‘[W]herefore art thou Romeo?’  ‘Wherefore’ means ‘why,’ not ‘where’; Juliet is not looking for Romeo, but asking why he has a name that means he is her family’s enemy:


What’s Montague?  It is not hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man.  O, be some other name!

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not  Romeo called,

Retain that dear perfection that he owes

Without that title.  Romeo, doff thy name,

And for thy name – which is no part of thee –

Take all myself

The injunction ‘lose yourself to find yourself’ that we saw operative in a play like Love’s Labour’s Lost, is embedded, as well, in Juliet’s eloquent, and desperate, wish.  Names in this play are, it seems, deliberately symmetrical, like so many other structural elements:  the dactylic rhythms of MON-ta-gue and CAP-u-let each each other, as do the names of RO-me-o and JU-li-et.  In terms of prosody there is indeed no difference between ‘Montague’ and ‘Capulet,’ yet both are restrictive terms that, in the stubborn and recalcitrant feuding, cry out to be abandoned, superseded, or lost.  (Compare, in the Henry VI plays, the opposition between ‘York’ and ‘Lancaster,’ where the supervening name of ‘Tudor’ puts an end to another blood feud, settled by a marriage.)  Romeo will indeed doff his name – ‘Henceforth I never will be Romeo’ – in order to enter the night world of transformation.  Her startled response, when she learns that he is present, is also to ‘doff’ something – her maidenly shame:

Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face,

Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek

For that which thou hast heard me speak tonight.

Fain would I swell on form, fain, fain deny

What I have spoke; but farewell, compliment.

Dost thou love me?…

The walled orchard, like the biblical enclosed garden, the hortus conclusus, was a traditional iconographic emblem of virginity in poetry and art (the Song of Songs; Chaucer’s ‘Knight’s Tale’; the Unicorn tapestries).  In Juliet’s image, quickly picked up by Romeo, it becomes a place of love and risk:


The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,

And if the place death, considering who thou art,

If any of my kinsmen find thee here.


With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls,

For stony limits cannot hold love out,

And what love can do, that dares love attempt.

He is winged Cupid, who comes to his beloved Psyche in the dark.  Yet there are dangers in this paradisal garden – in Juliet’s lightning image, for example:

I have no joy of this contract tonight.

It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,

Too like the lightning which doth cease to be

Ere one can say it lightens…

And there is a danger in Romeo’s impulse to swear, to take a vow, especially when Juliet says, if he must do, then ‘swear by thy gracious self,/Which is the god of my idolatry.’  As always in Shakespeare, to take a human being for a god is an error in judgment – if not a blasphemy – that will have untoward consequences.  There is danger in the image of Romeo as a ‘wanton’s bird,’ a child’s plaything, and there is a poignant truth in her reply:  when he says, ‘I would I were thy bird,’ she answers playfully, ‘I should kill thee with much cherishing.’  Here, as throughout the early acts of the play, every utterance has a double meaning, encodes a warning, a foreboding of the tragedy to come.  In a way, though, the most ominous or fateful element of this beautiful scene is its verticality.  Again and again through Romeo and Juliet a glace or move upward will prefigure a fall, from the moment when the lovers are both aloft in Juliet’s chamber to the end, when they are both lying dead in the tomb.  There is a comic anticipation of this up/down pattern in the Nurse’s long comic speech on the child Juliet’s falling on her face and her husband’s joke about women falling backward when they come of age.  Romeo falls down in Friar Laurence’s cell when he hears that he is banished, and the Nurse, with characteristic double entendre, urges him to stand up and be a man (‘For Juliet’s sake, rise and stand’).  Juliet falls prostrate at the feet of her father, and is likewise told to stand.  In the aubade scene, Juliet has a premonition of Romeo’s final fate:  ‘Me thinks I see thee, now thou art so low,/As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.’  And in the final scene the Prince says to old Montague, ‘[T]hou art early up/To see thy son and heir more early down.’  Up/down.  From the stars to the tomb.  For the pair of star-crossed lovers who are Romeo and Juliet, this is the play’s inexorable pattern, mirrored on the stage in a visual image of ascent and fall.”



And finally, since Bloom quoted him, from William Hazlitt:

ROMEO AND JULIET is the only tragedy which Shakespear has written entirely on a love-story. It is supposed to have been his first play, and it deserves to stand in that proud rank. There is the buoyant spirit of youth in every line, in the rapturous intoxication of hope, and in the bitterness of despair. It has been said of ROMEO AND JULIET by a great critic, that “whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is to be found in this poem.” The description is true; and yet it does not answer to our idea of the play. For if it has the sweetness of the rose, it has its freshness too;
if it has the languor of the nightingale’s song, it has also its giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern spring, it is as glowing and as bright. There is nothing of a sickly and sentimental cast. Romeo and Juliet are in love, but they are not love-sick. Everything speaks the very soul of pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the passions: the heart beats, the blood circulates and mantles throughout. Their courtship is not an insipid interchange of sentiments lip-deep, learnt at second-hand from poems and plays,made up of beauties of the most shadowy kind, of “fancies wan that hang the pensive head,” of evanescent smiles, and sighs that breathe not, of delicacy that shrinks from the touch, and feebleness that scarce supports itself,
an elaborate vacuity of thought, and an artificial dearth of sense, spirit, truth, and nature! It is the reverse of all this. It is Shakespear all over, and Shakespear when he was young.
We have heard it objected to ROMEO AND JULIET, that it is founded on an idle passion between a boy and a girl, who have scarcely seen and can have but little sympathy or rational esteem for one another, who have had no experience of the good or ills of life, and whose raptures or despair must be therefore equally groundless and fantastical. Whoever objects to the youth of the parties in this play as “too unripe and crude” to pluck the sweets of love, and wishes to see a first-love carried on into a good old age, and the passions taken at the rebound, when their force is spent, may find all this done in the Stranger and in other German plays, where they do things by contraries, and transpose nature to inspire sentiment and create philosophy. Shakespear proceeded in a more straight-forward, and, we think, effectual way. He did not endeavour to extract beauty from wrinkles, or the wild throb of passion from the last expiring sigh of indifference. He did not “gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles.” It was not his way. But he has given a picture of human life, such .as it is in the order of nature. He has founded the passion of the two lovers not on the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had not experienced. All that was to come of life was theirs. At that untried source of promised happiness they slaked their thirst, and the first eager draught made them drunk with love and joy. They were in full possession of their senses and their affections. Their hopes were of air, their desires of fire. Youth is the season of love, because the heart is then first melted in tenderness from the touch of novelty, and kindled to rapture, for it knows no end of its enjoyments or its wishes. Desire has no limit but itself. Passion, the love and expectation of pleasure, is infinite, extravagant, inexhaustible, till experience comes to check and kill it. Juliet exclaims on her first interview with Romeo-

“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep.”

And why should it not? What was to hinder the thrilling tide of pleasure, which had just. gushed from her heart, from flowing on without stint or measure, but experience which she was yet without? What was to abate the transport of the first sweet sense of pleasure, which her heart and her senses had just tasted, but indifference which she was yet a stranger to? What was there to check the ardour of hope, of faith, of constancy, just rising in her breast, but disappointment which she had not yet felt! As are the desires and the hopes of youthful passion, such is “the keenness of its disappointments, and their baleful effect. Such is the transition in this play from the highest bliss to the lowest despair, from the nuptial couch to an untimely grave. The only evil that even in appre-hension befalls the two lovers is the loss of the greatest possible felicity; yet this loss is fatal to both, for they had rather part with life than bear the thought of surviving all that had made life dear to them. In all this, Shakespear has but followed nature, which existed in his time, as well as now. The modern philosophy, which reduces the whole theory of the mind to habitual impressions, and leaves the natural impulses of passion and imagina-tion out of the account, had not then been discovered; or if it had, would have been little calculated for the uses of poetry.


My next post:  Romeo and Juliet, Act Two, Part Two:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning


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6 Responses to “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,/My love as deep: The more I give to thee/The more I have, for both are infinite.

  1. GGG says:

    Dennis, Is there a way to turn on/off the captions that were in the other clips of the BBC play? i found them really helpful for watching/listening/reading the play. I tried the closed captioning button but it gives some pretty crazy transcriptions of what google thinks the characters are saying.

  2. GGG says:

    Reading Hazlitt was instructive because I think he caught the sense of something almost magical in R&J’s balcony scene that reflects the overflowing, optimistic hope and excitement that the two lovers have. The giddiness before any disappointment. It reminded me for some reason of the Queen Mab speech–almost as though a fairy had bewitched them into believing that their love will conquer all impediments. Of course we know it won’t….

  3. Pingback: 8 Lovely Things This Week (2.14.14) » fat vegan baby

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